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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Rendezvous with a Red-headed Woodpecker

On April 23, I woke up at Pete Nichol's house, excited to see his famed backyard and feeders in action. There was a good bit of activity back there - mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows, with plenty of your standard MN backyard birds to keep them company. But then who is that peeking over the suet feeder? It is a Pine Warbler!

Pine Warbler on a suet feeder

Pine Warbler on the ground

A Pine Warbler was a great bird to get. I knew that Pete had one coming for the last couple of days, and I was really glad he stuck around for me. This is a species I have had real trouble finding in Hennepin County, and I thought it might require waiting until June and then biking to the north Metro to try to find one on its breeding grounds. Getting one in April was fantastic! After Pete left for the festival, but I was still working on the final details of the presentation (including adding a photo of the Pine Warbler I'd just seen!), another good bird came to the feeder, a Purple Finch!

Female Purple Finch on a platform feeder

Purple Finches aren't all that rare, but they can be frustratingly hard to find unless one comes to feeders that you watch regularly. Some years they elude me altogether in the metro area, so it felt good to see this one. Before I left, I also saw my first Cedar Waxwings of the year.

Then it was time to hit the road. Pete had given me all the info about the best route for biking over to Carpenter, and he hit the nail on the head. As I rode a back road near his house, I heard a singing Savannah Sparrow. There were also a whole bunch of Vesper Sparrows along this road, and it was fun to get to see so many of them. Finally, as I was heading down another back road and getting close to Carpenter, I saw an Eurasian Collared-Dove on a power line. After I got to Carpenter, I told Pete that I'd seen one, and he was surprised - it is a tough bird to get in Washington County. In fact, the dedicated and hard-core county lister Ben Douglas (who saw 243 species in Washington County in 2017) didn't even have it on his county list. So, I felt incredibly lucky to have run across this bird!

Route through rural Washington County to Carpenter Nature Center

At the Bird Festival, I gave my talk about my adventures in green birding. You all know a lot about what I said because it was based heavily on my blog posts! I also gave more general info about green birding, plus a plug in for the causes that I am raising money for.

As I was giving my presentation, I happened to talk about my plans for June. I expect that in June, there will be certain species that have limited breeding areas near Minneapolis that I need to bike considerable distances to get - unless I get really lucky and see them in migration. One of the birds I mentioned was the Red-headed Woodpecker. I've seen them a couple of times in the city limits of Minneapolis, but they aren't regular there and you have to get lucky. There are a couple of areas in this part of the state where they breed, but the ones I know about are a long bike ride out of the city. After the presentation, both Kevin Smith and his wife separately told me that they had a Red-headed Woodpecker that had been coming to their feeders since November and that I should come and see it! They said their house was 4 miles south of Hastings (where I was staying the night), and that the biking on that road was good and safe, with a wide shoulder and good road surface.

So that set my plans - I was going to my hotel in Hastings, drop my stuff off, and then bike down to the Smith's house! After leaving Carpenter, I was going to come within a few hundred yards of the bridge that runs across the St. Croix River to Prescott, Wisconsin. Since I am a bit of a geography nerd, I decided I couldn't not go over into Wisconsin to add that state to my big half year. So I crossed the river and did a quick eBird checklist to make it "official"! Then I took the very nice new bike path from Prescott all the way into Hastings. I checked in to my hotel, and then grabbed my binoculars and camera and headed south towards the Smith's.

Upon arriving, I found that this was going to be a very enjoyable tick! There was a nice set of chairs on the front porch, and Kevin and I sat down to wait for the woodpecker to come to the feeders. Then, Kevin asked if I might want a beer. I said "yes" and then I also found out that Kevin good taste in beer!

Pic of me having a beer and looking for a Red-headed Woodpecker

We quickly heard the Red-headed Woodpecker making its "churr" call from across the street, but it stubbornly stayed across the street for quite a while. Then, he flew in to one of the larger trees in Kevin's yard. I had long enough to positively ID him, but then he flew off towards the back yard. Kevin thought he might be going towards his roosting hole in a tree in the backyard, so we headed back to see if we could get a better look. We did get some good views, although the woodpecker decided to take advantage of our absence from the front porch to sneak down and grab some peanuts!

Red-headed Woodpecker in a tree

Then it was a quick bike back into Hastings to my hotel. I got there in just enough time to eat a little dinner and use the hot tub before heading out for some nocturnal surveying for the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas with Bonnie Sample! That birding won't count for my green big year, but I also really enjoy helping out with the atlas and collecting data about our bird life! It is the final year of data collection, and we really needed to get some night visits in during the prime nocturnal survey time of April. We didn't push atlassing too late into the night because I knew I had a big day of biking the next day!

Route from Carpenter Nature Center to Prescott, WI, then into Hastings and then down to Kevin Smith's house and back to Hastings

Miles biked on these trips: 28.2

Miles biked year to date: 489.5

Species count: 119

My bike birding eBird profile: (Please note that you need a free eBird account to see profiles in eBird)

Fundraising links for the two organizations I am supporting with this green big half year. Please donate!

If you were planning to donate 10 cents per bird species, you'd be up to ~$12.00 right now. That isn't a lot of money, but it would still be really helpful to my fundraiser!

Friends of Sax-Zim Bog:

National MS Society:

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